USA - Three Nova Scotians in Southern California, April 4-13 2007

Published by richard stern (sternrichard AT

Participants: Richard Stern, Ken McKenna, Alan Covert


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Yellow-footed Gull
Yellow-footed Gull
Western Meadowlark
Western Meadowlark
Anna's Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
California Gnatcatcher
California Gnatcatcher
Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl

Three birders from Nova Scotia arranged a trip to S. California, booking our own flights, car rental, and bird “hit-lists” with the aid of e-mails, friends’ advice, and Californian biriding web-sites etc.. Work schedules constrained Ken and I to April 4-13, but Alan went beforehand to a conference in San Diego, and met us off the plane at LAX, pre-armed with some birding information about the San Diego area. We bought and borrowed appropriate literature, most particularly and usefully A Birder’s Guide to Southern California” by Brad Schram. Ken was interested in making a detailed trip diary, and Alan and I were more interested in bird photography, and we all wanted to maximize our trip lists. I had another goal – to bring my ABA area list from 594 to over 600.

DAY 1 – Arrived at LAX with a couple of hours of daylight after picking up the rental vehicle and attempting to negotiate the LA Freeways to get to our hotel. We immediately headed to the nearest beach – Dockweiler State Park, where it was cool, windy and cloudy, but despite the jets screaming overhead, we saw WESTERN , GLAUCOUS-WINGED, and CALIFORNIA GULLS, various SCOTERS and a huge raft of WESTERN GREBES offshore.

DAY 2 – Being jet-lagged easterners helped in rising early, and we were on the road by 4am, and headed east to Big Morongo Preserve, where the trailer at the entrance had feeders, attracting ANNA’S, RUFOUS, and COSTA’S, HUMMINGBIRDS as well as CALIFORNIA TOWHEE, HOODED ORIOLE, NUTTALL’S WOODPECKER and the ubiquitous WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS and HOUSE FINCHES.

Farther into the park, the scrubby habitat had more ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRDS, BEWICK’S WREN and, in a grove of trees, MCGILLIVRAY’S WARBLER and an unidentified EMPID that refused to vocalise, but didn’t have a yellow breast or tear-drop-shaped eye ring. My first trip Lifer was here - a CASSIN’S VIREO, with some GAMBELL’S QUAIL.

Just next to this area was a small picnic and recreation area – Covington Park, where, just as “the Book” said, we found a pair of VERMILLION FLYCATCHERS, as well as a CASSIN’S KINGBIRD with the more common WESTERNS. We had lovely looks at a nesting pair of WESTERN BLUEBIRDS posing nicely for digiscoping, and a birding couple who were there very kindly showed us a BARN OWL that was half hidden in a tree, and we would never have noticed it on our own.

By afternoon, we were ready to head off to the area that had been my ambition to visit for years, and which lived up to every aspect of its reputation for a weird place, heat, great birding and everything else- the Salton Sea. We spent the rest of the day birding the eastern edge, till we got to our night’s destination – Calipatria. We were suitably impressed by the large numbers of EARED GREBES, AM. WHITE PELICANS, AM. AVOCETS, BLACK-NECKED STILTS and other shorebirds, etc. OSPREY and RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS were present, and small flocks of WESTERN and LEAST SANDPIPERS constantly flew by. VERDINS were in the isolated trees. Our first LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE was present.

We stopped in at the Marina, where the trees held BLACK-THROATED GRAY and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, and a PHAINOPEPLA. It was dusk by the time we arrived at Calipatria, where we had booked in to the very pleasant Calipatria Inn for 3 nights.

DAY 3 - We spent the whole day in the area of the south end of the Salton Sea. We started off in downtown Brawley, where, after a delicious Mexican breakfast in a local café, we birded some tree-lined streets for GILA WOODPECKER and other suburban birds. Cattle Call Park also yielded nice looks at LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER, but we couldn’t find any Bronzed Cowbirds. After that we cruised some of the straight roads on the way to the cat-tails at the south end of the sea. The fields had huge numbers of WHITE-FACED IBIS, LONG-BILLED CURLEW, GREATER YELLOWLEGS and WHIMBREL. At one point we came across a flock of over 1,000 AM. PIPITS. There were W.MEADOWLARKS singing all along the way, and LAZULI BUNTINGS in the fields.

We did the Ramer Lake loop, where we found CLARK’S GREBES, a good flock of warblers, a WARBLING VIREO, and for me the highlight was a chance to get some good photos of MARSH WREN.

We arrived at the observation tower at the Salton Sea NWR, but views of the sea were distant. However, a pair of CLAPPER RAILS constantly called from the edge of the reeds, although all we could actually see was a single eye, briefly! There were also SORA and VIRGINIA RAILS in the area.

Later, we headed round the southern end of the sea to Poe Road, which for me was the best spot, as we immediately saw 3 individuals of the one bird I really didn’t want to miss, a lifer I knew I would probably never see anywhere else – YELLOW-FOOTED GULL. We also had great, close looks and photos of all kinds of Shorebirds, including SNOWY PLOVER. I have seen WESTERN SANDPIPERS in basic plumage, always very hard to distinguish from the more familiar Semipalms, but those here were all in stunning alternate plumage, making it easy. A little farther on was Salton City, which we found rather bizarre and fascinating. As we arrived, a GREATER ROADRUNNER ran across the road, and as we left, a PRAIRIE FALCON flew over the truck. We also got a GULL-BILLED TERN, a lifer for Alan and Ken.

DAY 4 - Another full day at the south end of the Salton Sea. We drove to the Wister Unit, where we met some very pleasant local young birders, who gave us some great tips on where to find some local specialties. Walking down the road we had a MERLIN, and found a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, as well as more WESTERN KINGBIRDS and several ABERT’S TOWHEES. A short drive down the road brought us to the impoundments, where there were many more AVOCETS and numerous different DUCKS, plus our first W.SCRUB JAY. At the corner of Davis and Macdonald Roads were some wet mud flats, with many more shorebirds, including WILSON’S PHALAROPE. A PEREGRINE flew by. We joined up again with the local birders at the edge of the Salton Sea, where after a short muddy walk we gazed at “wall-to-wall” N. SHOVELLERS spread out over the entire area in front of us. There was a PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER there – this time easily Id-d by its yellow throat and breast, and large teardrop eye-ring. A little farther along the road was a LESSER NIGHTHAWK.

On the advice of our fellow birders, we searched in that area for BURROWING OWLS, and once we had found the first one, they seemed to pop up all over the place. Later, we leisurely birded the Red Hill Marina area and the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR HQ, where we saw close-ups of GAMBELL’S QUAIL and another BARN OWL.

By late afternoon we were content to sit back and just enjoy the spectacle of huge numbers of assorted WATERFOWL, GREBES, SHOREBIRDS, GULLS and TERNS all around us.

Again on the advice of our fellow birders, we went back to Brawly 3 times that day, to the pig farm at the west side of town, to look for Ruddy Ground Dove, but alas- could only find COMMON. At dusk we were treated to a large flock of LESSER NIGHTHAWKS flying around over the fields.

DAY 5 - An early start from Calipatria, west, to the Anza-Borrego State Park , where we birded the area around the HQ buildings. Great birding, with stunning looks at nesting CACTUS WREN, and a number of NASHVILLE AND 0-C WARBLERS, COSTA’S HUMMERS and an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER. At the campground were BLACK-CHINNED SPPARROW and CALIFORNIA QUAIL. We then continued west, and after a brief stop at Yaqui Pass campground and well (COOPER’S HAWK, more WARBLERS) detoured north out of the desert to Lake Henshaw and Mesa Grande. Along the road we found RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS and OAK TITMOUSE, which, after some calculations, I realized was my ABA area #600! We had plenty of ACORN WOODPECKERS, but our faint hopes of finding Lewis’s or White-headed were not forthcoming. On the way down to San Ysabel Mission we found a nice flock of LARK SPARROW, with 1 VESPER with them.

We descended to Escondido, where we decided to base ourselves for the next 3 nights, as a convenient area for the explorations we planned for that area. That turned out to be a good decision, although we kept getting lost looking for restaurants and then finding our way back to the hotel.

DAY 6 - The staff at the hotel told us it would take 2 hours negotiating traffic to get from Escondido to San Diego, so we started off going halfway, to Lake Hodges, north of San Diego. A great choice, as it was very birdy, and we found a number of target species, such as RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW, CALIFORNIA GNATCATCHER, and LAWRENCE’S GOLDFINCH. The lake had CLARKE’S GREBES and FORSTER’S TERNS. RED-TAILED HAWKS were in the air constantly. After the rush-hour had died down we continued south, to La Jolla.

We parked by the rocky shore in the area of restaurants and boutiques, and within 2 minutes of stepping out of the car, there were 4 unexpected shorebird species, all of which were lifers for some or all of us, - SURFBIRD, BLACK OYSTERCATCHER, WANDERING TATTLER and BLACK TURNSTONE. There was a breeding colony of HEERMAN’S GULL and BRANDT’S CORMORANT right there as well.

After a protracted lunch in a beachside restaurant, we headed to Torrey Pines State Park, where we had WRENTIT, and I almost caused some road rage by stopping at traffic lights, and was still photographing a hovering WHITE-TAILED KITE long after they turned green. At the nearby river estuary was a nice mixed group of ROYAL, ELEGANT and CASPIAN TERNS.

Day 7 – We did the Palomar Mountain loop. The road up from Escondido to Mt. Palomar was very productive, with beautiful mountain scenery, and birds such as ACORN WOODPECKERS, WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE, WESTERN BLUEBIRD, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, many BAND-TAILED PIGEONS (including a pair watched mating), STELLER’S JAYS etc. At the campground were 2 MOUNTAIN QUAIL and a singing PURPLE FINCH. I went into the observatory, and was suitably impressed by the 200 inch Hale telescope and accompanying exhibition.

Afterwards, we headed back to San Diego, where we looked at South San Diego Bay, where we had stunning looks at a PEREGRINE chasing shorebirds, and stooping repeatedly until it caught one, plus the local REDDISH EGRET. Finally, at the Tijuana River Estuary another CLAPPER RAIL was more cooperative, and showed itself nicely, while a BELDING’S SAVANNAH SPARROW and a SAY’S PHOEBE perched nearby, and a TRICOLORED HERON flew upstream.

Day 8 – Drove early to the Mission Dam area, near Escondido, where we spent the morning. Again, excellent general birding in the scrubby area and along the river by the dam. Highlights here included dark race of FOX SPARROW, CALIFORNIA THRASHER posing in the open, LAZULI BUNTINGS, and more of the by now familiar Warblers. We then went down to Mission Bay in San Diego, for mostly more Shorebirds, including both LONG and SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS, plus BRANT, CINNAMON TEAL, FORSTER’S TERNS and many others. A small park across the river had more AM. PIPITS and BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLERS.

Day 9 – We left early again, to head up the Orange Co coast for the final leg back to L.A. We stopped at Dohenney State Beach, where the colony of SNOWY EGRETS and BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS, plus more ELEGANT TERNS, made for nice viewing and photos. There were many WESTERN GULLS and 1 GLAUCOUS-WINGED. Next stop was Huntington Beach Back Bay, with more Terns, Egrets etc. But we followed a short trail through the woods there, and had good looks at migrant RUFOUS HUMMERS and more Warblers. After that, we checked out the local park, hoping for Tricolored Blackbirds, but no luck. However, we got ALLEN’S HUMMINGBIRDS, which were another hoped for lifer, and superb looks at a COOPER’S HAWK that appeared to be nesting. We also saw our one and only TOWNSEND’S WARBLER.

Finally, the freeway system back to the LAX area did not allow for any more birding, so we ended up celebrating a great trip with a good meal and fine wine.

Day 10 - Long flight from LA to Halifax, via Calgary. It was a very successful trip, with 204 species seen, and most of them photographed. I achieved my #600 for the ABA area, and all 3 of us had many Lifers. The arrangements, which had been made privately and by e-mail, were successful, and there were no disasters.

More pictures can be seen here - .

Richard Stern
Port Williams
Nova Scotia

May 2007

Species Lists

Common Loon Dockweiler S.B., LA, Mission Bay
Pied-billed Grebe Commmon, all inland waterways
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe 100+ Dockweiler S.B., others San Diego etc.
Clark's Grebe Ramer L., L. Hodges
American White Pelican Hundreds Salton Sea
Brown Pelican Dockweiler S.B., San D., a few Salton Sea
Double-crested Cormorant Common
Brandt's Cormorant Dockweiler S.B., La Jolla, San D.
Pelagic Cormorant La Jolla
Great Blue Heron Small nos. widely scattered
Great Egret
Reddish Egret 1 grey phase, San D. Bay (local rarity)
Tricolored Heron 1 San D. (local rarity)
Little Blue Heron Salton Sea, Mission Bay, San D.River
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Green Heron A few, several locations
Black-crowned Night-Heron Common. Large noisy colony Doheny S.P.
Turkey Vulture Small nos. widely scattered
White-faced Ibis
Brant 2+ San Diego R.Est.
American Wigeon Small nos, Salton Sea, San Diego etc.
Gadwall A few, Salton Sea, San Diego, L.Hodges
Green-winged Teal A few, Salton Sea, San Diego
Mallard Widespread
Northern Pintail A few, Davis Rd, Sth end Salton Sea
Blue-winged Teal A few, L.Hodges, San D. Est.
Cinnamon Teal Salton Sea, San Diego etc.
Northern Shoveler Thousands, Sth. end Salton Sea, few elsewhere
Redhead A few, Salton Sea, Huntington Beach Park
Ring-necked Duck A few, Salton Sea, Ramer L.
Lesser Scaup A few, L.Hodges, San Diego
Surf Scoter off Dockweiler S.P., San D. est.
White-winged Scoter A few off Dockweiler S.P.
Bufflehead L.Hodges, Tijuana Est. etc.
Red-breasted Merganser A few, Tij. Est, San D.Bay etc.
Ruddy Duck Abundant, esp. Salton Sea
Osprey 1- 2 seen most days
White-tailed Kite 1 Anza -Borrego, 1 Torrey Pines
Northern Harrier 1-2 seen most days
Cooper's Hawk 1 B.Morongo, Tamarisk Camp. Hunt.Beach Park
Red-shouldered Hawk 1 nr. Brawley, Mt.Palomar etc.
Red-tailed Hawk Common all sites
American Kestrel Common all sites
Merlin 1 Davis Rd., Salton Sea
Prairie Falcon 1 flew over Salton City
Peregrine Falcon Catching shorebirds, San Diego Bay
Wild Turkey Mesa Grande in woods
Mountain Quail 2 Palomar Mt campground
California Quail Anza-B. trailer park etc.
Gambel's Quail Frequently seen several sites
Ring-necked Pheasant 2-3 Davis Rd.
Clapper Rail Heard Sth. end Salton Sea, seen Sth. Mission Bay
Virginia Rail Calling Sth. end Salton Sea
Sora Calling several locations
Common Moorhen Salton Sea, Huntington Beach etc.
American Coot Abundant everywhere, esp. Salton Sea
Black Oystercatcher 1, rocky beach La Jolla
Black-necked Stilt Abundant, esp. Salton Sea
American Avocet Abundant, esp. Salton Sea
Black-bellied Plover Poe Rd., San Diego etc.
Semipalmated Plover Poe Rd., San Diego etc.
Killdeer Small numbers widespread
Snowy Plover Poe Rd., Davis Rd.
Short-billed Dowitcher A few, San Diego R. Est.
Long-billed Dowitcher Davis Rd., Salton Sea etc.
Marbled Godwit Abundant
Whimbrel Fields around Calipatria, San Diego
Long-billed Curlew
Greater Yellowlegs Fields Cali[patria, Salton Sea, San D.
Lesser Yellowlegs Davis Rd.
Spotted Sandpiper A few, Salton Sea, San Ysabel
Wandering Tattler 1 rocky beach La Jolla
Willet Abundant
Ruddy Turnstone Feeding frenzy Mission Bay Pt.
Black Turnstone 1 rocky beach La Jolla
Surfbird 1 rocky beach La Jolla
Sanderling Feeding frenzy Mission Bay Pt.
Western Sandpiper Abundant, Salton Sea, coast
Least Sandpiper Abundant, Salton Sea
Dunlin A few, Red Hill, San D. etc.
Wilson's Phalarope 20+ corner Davis/ Schrimpf Rf.
Heermann's Gull Dockweiler S.B., La Jolla
Mew Gull 1 Red Hill Bay, Salton Sea
Ring-billed Gull Abundant
California Gull Several, all coasts, Salton Sea
Glaucous-winged Gull A few 1st c., Dockweiler, Doheney S.B.
Western Gull Abundant coasts (not Salton Sea)
Yellow-footed Gull 3 1st/2nd c., Poe Rd.
American Herring Gull A few, Salton Sea
Bonaparte's Gull Common, Salton Sea
Gull-billed Tern Salton City
Caspian Tern Abundant, Salton Sea, lakes, coast
Elegant Tern San D., Torrey Pines etc.
Royal Tern A few, with Elegants, Torrey Pines etc.
Forster's Tern Salton Sea, San D.
Black Skimmer San Diego Sth Bay
Rock Pigeon Usual
Band-tailed Pigeon Palomar Mtn. Rd.
Eurasian Collared-Dove Common all locations
Mourning Dove Common
White-winged Dove Borrego Springs
Common Ground-Dove Sunny Bono Visitor Centre, Brawley
Inca Dove Wister Unit
Greater Roadrunner Big Morongo, Salton City
Barn Owl small park Morongo, Sonny Bono V.C.
Burrowing Owl About 25 along Davis/ Schrimpf Rds.
Lesser Nighthawk 1 corner davis/ Schrimpf Rds., others at dusk
White-throated Swift Yaqui pass, San D. etc.
Anna's Hummingbird Abundant all areas
Costa's Hummingbird Big Morongo, A-Borr.V.C.
Rufous Hummingbird Big Morongo, Hunt.Back Bay
Allen's Hummingbird Hunt. Beach Park
Belted Kingfisher L. Hodges, San Diego
Acorn Woodpecker Abundant Palomar Mtn. loop
Gila Woodpecker Brawley
Ladder-backed Woodpecker Brawley Cattle Call Park
Nuttall's Woodpecker Big Morongo, Palomar Loop
Downy Woodpecker Mission Dam
Hairy Woodpecker Palomar Mtn.
Northern Flicker Individuals all over
Pacific-slope Flycatcher S. end of Davis Rd., Salton Sea, Yaqui Well
Black Phoebe Common all over
Say's Phoebe San Diego etc.
Vermilion Flycatcher Covington Park
Ash-throated Flycatcher Anza-Borrego, Yaqui Well, Palomar Loop
Cassin's Kingbird Covington Park
Western Kingbird Abundant all over
Loggerhead Shrike Salton Sea NWR
Cassin's Vireo Big Morongo, Palomar loop
Warbling Vireo Ramer Lake
Tree Swallow A few
Violet-green Swallow Frequent, e.g. L.Henshaw, L.Hodges
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Abundant all over
Cliff Swallow Common. Large flock N. of Brawley
Barn Swallow Fairly common
American Pipit 1000+ in a field W. of Calipatria
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 Mtn. road near L.Henshaw, 1 L.Hodges
Phainopepla Salton Sea NWR, Salton City
Cactus Wren Nesting pair Anza-Borrego visitor center
Bewick's Wren Widespread
House Wren A few, various locations
Marsh Wren Sth. end Salton Sea, Ramer Lake
Northern Mockingbird Widespread
California Thrasher 1 Covington Park, 1 in open Mission Dam
Western Bluebird Common. Nest Covington Park.
American Robin A few, L.Henshaw etc.
Wrentit Common coastal scrub
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Big Morongo etc.
California Gnatcatcher L.Hodges
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher 1 f., Anza-Borrego Vis.Centre
Bushtit Common
Mountain Chickadee Palomar Mtn. road
Oak Titmouse Common Palomar loop. ABA #600
White-breasted Nuthatch Palomar Mtn. road
Verdin Common in Salton sea area
Steller's Jay Several San Diego Co. in mountains
Western Scrub-Jay Common San Diego and Palomar
American Crow Common
Common Raven Common
European Starling Usual
Orange-crowned Warbler Common everywhere
Nashville Warbler Common everywhere
Yellow Warbler A few, several locations
Yellow-rumped Warbler Common - all Audubons
Black-throated Gray Warbler Common
Townsend's Warbler 1, Hunt. Beach Town Park
Northern Waterthrush 1, Wister Unit
MacGillivray's Warbler 1, Big Morongo Canyon
Common Yellowthroat Quite common
Wilson's Warbler Common all over
Spotted Towhee Abundant throughout
California Towhee Common throughout
Abert's Towhee Ramer Lake, Wister Unit
Rufous-crowned Sparrow 1 L.Hodges
Chipping Sparrow Covington Park, San Ysabel
Vesper Sparrow 1 with Lark Sp., san Ysabel
Lark Sparrow Small flock San Ysabel
Black-throated Sparrow Borrego Springs campground
Savannah Sparrow Belding’s, Mission Bay
Fox Sparrow 'Thick-billed' Mission Dam
Song Sparrow Common throughout
Lincoln's Sparrow 1 Big Morongo
White-crowned Sparrow Abundant
Golden-crowned Sparrow Palomar Mtn. road, Mission Dam
Dark-eyed Junco Widespread 'Oregon'
Black-headed Grosbeak Palomar Mtn. road
Lazuli Bunting Salton Sea, L.Hodges
Red-winged Blackbird Abundant
Western Meadowlark Common fields Salton Sea area
Brewer's Blackbird Small roadside flocks, Salton Sea area
Great-tailed Grackle Abundant
Brown-headed Cowbird Abundant
Hooded Oriole Big Morongo Cn.
Bullock's Oriole Wister Unit
Purple Finch Palomar Mtn. campground
House Finch Abundant
Lesser Goldfinch Common
Lawrence's Goldfinch 2, L.Hodges
American Goldfinch A few various areas
House Sparrow Common